President obama’s ‘private sector’ gaffe apossible window to soul like other recent gaffes

Senator McCain, what economy are you talking about? Obamaimmediately asked. Pouring it on, Obama added: What we need now is leadership thatgets us out. I ll provide it; John McCain won t, and that s thechoice for the American people in this election. Nearly four years later, now-President Obama made a similar gaffelast Friday. He declared that the private sector, amid a climbing unemploymentrate and 23 million people out of work, is doing fine.

Obama s current Republican rival, former Massachusetts GovernorMitt Romney, echoed the Democrat s critique from 2008. Is he really that out of touch? Romney said Friday during anappearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I think he s really definingwhat it means to be out of touch with reality. While the Obama campaign is arguing that the president s commentwas not the revelatory slip that Romney and the Republicans argue,they might ask McCain, or Senator John Kerry before him, if theyagree. More than just a misspeaking of words, their 2008 and 2004 campaigngaffes offered a window into the soul of the two presidentialcandidates.

Romney says Obama has now done the same for himself. Kerry, who voted against the 1991 Persian Gulf War but for the 2003invasion of Iraq, before criticizing the latter war as he ran forpresident against Republican George W. Bush, was already fightingthe impression that he was a flip-flopper when he spoke at MarshallUniversity in Huntington, W.Va., in March 2004. Then, as the newly minted Democratic nominee tried to dismiss anycriticism that he might receive for voting against a supplementalwar appropriation, Kerry said: I actually did vote for the $87billion before I voted against it. Illuminated Metal Keyboard

The Massachusetts senator later explained that he voted for an $87billion bill that would have provided the war funding by cuttingsome of Bush s upper-income tax cuts, before voting against thefinal measure that was financed without the tax changes. Nonetheless, the Bush campaign seized upon the comment. In 2008, McCain was delivering his first speech of the day inJacksonville, Fla., when he moved to address the economic chaosthat was engulfing Wall Street. You know there s been tremendous turmoil in our financialmarkets and Wall Street and it is – people are frightened by theseevents, he proclaimed. Black Metal Keyboard Manufacturer

Then, he famously added: Our economy, I think, still, thefundamentals of our economy are strong. Almost forgotten is what came next. McCain said: But these are very, very difficult times. And Ipromise you, we will never put America in this position again. Wewill clean up Wall Street. China Industrial Mini Keyboard

We will reform government. McCain aides immediately tried to walk back the fundamentals comment, before the candidate himself took a shot a damage controlduring his next stop in Orlando. McCain said that when he mentioned fundamentals, he meant thestrength of American workers and the fundamental contribution theymake to the economy. Our workers are the most innovative, the hardest working, thebest skilled, most productive, most competitive in the world, McCain said.

Trying to shift from defense to offense, the Arizonasenator added: My opponents may disagree, but those fundamentalsof America are strong. Nonetheless, the Obama campaign was merciless in its response. It rushed out a television commercial repeatedly showing McCainmaking his original remark. How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn t understandit s broken? the caption said as images of McCain and Bushflashed on the screen.

During the current campaign, Romney and his staff have made aseries of gaffes that Obama and his team have said carry deepermeaning. Romney s declaration last summer that corporations are people, they said, revealed a bias against the middle class. And senioradviser Eric Fehrnstrom was blasted after he said that ascandidates shift from primary to general election mode, itreshuffles the campaign much like shaking an Etch A Sketch. TheObama campaign said it affirmed Romney lacks a core. But Romney s almost-singular criticism of Obama throughout thisyear s primary and general election campaigns is that thepresident is detached from the daily reality of the millionssuffering through a lagging recovery.

Ironically, the president was trying to address the pace of thatrecovery – and blast congressional Republicans from blocking hisproposals to accelerate it – when he called a news conference onFriday to cast a spotlight on the issue. After Obama delivered his opening statement, a reporter asked himwhat he thought of Republican complaints that he s blaming theEuropeans and their own financial crisis for the failures of hisown policies. The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we ve created 4.3million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this yearalone, the president replied. The private sector is doingfine. He went on to add: Where we re seeing weaknesses in our economyhave to do with state and local government – oftentimes, cutsinitiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind ofhelp that they have in the past from the federal government, andwho don t have the same kind of flexibility as the federalgovernment in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.

And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want tomove forward and put people back to work, what they should bethinking about is, how do we help state and local governments andhow do we help the construction industry, he said. Romney, the Republicans, and their allies pounced. The RepublicanNational Committee, for example, came out with a web video evenbefore the official White House transcript of the news conferencewas released. It echoed Obama s own ad against McCain after his fundamentals remark four years earlier. The buzz prompted the president four hours later to take a rareshouted question at the end of an Oval Office appearance withPhilippine President Benigno Aquino.

Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doingfine, the president of the United States said in asomewhat-jarring statement about his own country. That s thereason I had the press conference. That s why I spent yesterday,the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month, and thispast year talking about how we can make the economy stronger. Theeconomy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work.The housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater.

Andthat s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some stepsthat can make a difference. On Sunday, David Axelrod, the president s top politicalstrategist, did talk show interviews to continue the cleanup. Asked on ABC to assess the lasting damage from the comment, Axelrodsaid: I think the American people are smarter than that. Theyunderstand the president called the press conference to say thatbecause of the storm clouds that are rolling in from Europe andelsewhere, we need to undergird our economy, and he called thepress conference to promote several steps he thought we needed totake to strengthen job creation. Later, appearing on CNN, Axelrod was repeatedly asked if he agreedwith the president that the private sector is doing fine.

After the third question, he replied: I believe – it s certainlydoing better than the public sector. The Romney campaign disputed that. Similar to the Obama four years earlier, it released a web videoharping on the president s statement. We ve seen layoffs, cutbacks, says one woman in a starkblack-and-white motif.

A man adds: When it s all said and done I m making $200 amonth. That s followed by another woman who says, I ve been lookingfor a job for two years haven t found any. The final image is a progressively tighter image of Obama makinghis comment repeatedly. Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.

Follow him onTwitter @globeglen.

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